Bible reading: 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal”.
It is Tuesday as I write this. Last Thursday I had an operation under general anaesthetic in hospital. The surgeon discovered I had “malignant neoplasms” – at least two spreading cancers in the bladder. Brenda and I are waiting for the biopsy results. Then we will have to choose between three treatments all with disabling and debilitating side or after effects, or, we may choose ‘palliative care’, where pain and suffering are medically relieved while the cause is not cured but allowed to take its course. Under God’s careful hand this will almost certainly claim my life in time.
It is not the first time we have faced cancer together. Brenda faced it first in 2003, when we were just returning from Khartoum pastoring the International Church. It was treated in England and she made a full recovery, thank God. Next, I had cancer of the voice-box in 2006, followed by neck cancer in 2009. Now 10 years on from that we face our fourth cancer together.
When you know you may well die soon it focuses your life and your thinking quite sharply. I have no fear of death because my Saviour Jesus has promised I will be with Him in a place He has made ready in Heaven. I have little fear of dying because modern palliative care removes most of the pain and suffering. I do not enjoy the prospect of being dependent on other people for my personal hygiene and cleanliness, but I do thank God that such caregiving people express His love and concern for an undeserving me.
Over the weekend we asked some of our closest family and friends by email to pray with us in the decisions Brenda and I must make together. I quote:
“Please pray with us as we trust in God and together seek to make the choice(s) which will honour Him the most. Thanks.”
For us, honouring God is our top priority. Whether I live or I die we both want God to be 100% honoured, to be esteemed, to be highly respected by everything we say, do and are. That is what we believe is right, always. God may be honoured through miraculous healing or through medical healing. He works in both. God may alternatively be honoured by giving His children sustaining strength in suffering, resolute radiance in restlessness, or great grace in going to glory.
We say in faith with our Lord Jesus, “Lord, not (our) will(s) but Yours be done”. “You, Lord, must be the One Who is honoured”.
Paul and Timothy – renewed by the Spirit while still
deep in trouble
Please read again 2 Corinthians 4:16-18:
“Therefore we do not lose heart (we are not discouraged). Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal”, (italics are my explanation).
Notice that their physical conditions did not control how Paul and Timothy felt about life. They were travelling around the Roman Empire (primarily in Asia Minor – modern-day Turkey – and Greece), proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ and founding communities of Christians. Paul also wrote a large number of letters back to these groups, 13 of which are preserved in the New Testament. 2 Corinthians is one of these. Timothy came from Lystra in Asia Minor. He was of mixed race with a Jewish mother and a Greek father. God used Paul to choose him as his travelling companion.
If physical conditions did not dominate their thoughts, what did?
Read the text once more and see their spiritual eyes were centred on “eternal (everlasting, not temporary) glory (impressive nature, with great beauty)”. Having such anchors “inwardly” (their inner selves, their spiritual lives, their hearts) were always being “renewed” (happening again after a pause, especially with more vigour, energy or enthusiasm than before), 2 Corinthians 4:17, (italics are my explanations).
See verse 17 in different English translations:
· “For our momentary, light distress [this passing trouble] is producing for us an eternal weight of glory [a fullness] beyond all measure [surpassing all comparisons, a transcendent splendour and an endless blessedness]!” The Amplified Bible.
· “These little troubles are getting us ready for an eternal glory that will make all our troubles seem like nothing”. Contemporary English Version.
· “These troubles and sufferings of ours are, after all, quite small and won’t last very long. Yet this short time of distress will result in God’s richest blessing upon us forever and ever!”. The Living Bible.
· “So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without His unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever”.
Can you see how for Paul and Timothy deeper understandings of being a follower of Christ came through their very dark experiences? They were travelling in dangerously threatening areas. They suffered illnesses. They were opposed in their preaching and teaching by many powerfully influential people. Although as nothing compared to Paul’s experiences or understandings, Brenda and I have faced several dark times. But while living through the menacing and murky mysteries we have known in the past, and are convinced of still now, our God is always with us!
It is certain that the time Paul spent writing in prisons has, over the centuries, produced his most widespread and effective ministry. Multiplied thousands of people worldwide have been influenced positively for Jesus Christ reading his letters now preserved by God in the New Testament.
“The Lord stood at my side and gave me strength” Paul wrote, “so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it … ”, 2 Timothy 4:17. He believed in his heart the Lord Jesus’ promise, “And surely I am with you always to the very end of the age”, Matthew 28:20. He knew this by experience even in his darkest prison times.
Humanly speaking Paul is alone. He is deserted by his friends and colleagues, 2 Timothy 4:16. He is an old man and a loyal servant of Jesus Christ since his astounding conversion, Acts 9:1-18. Born again to new life in Christ, he is continually being filled by the Holy Spirit, Acts 9:17. Now in a foreign city, far from home, surrounded by enemies, in a Roman prison or strict house arrest, threatened with almost certain death any day, I imagine Paul meditating as he writes. I wonder if he recalled God’s much earlier words to Ananias for him? God said almost as soon as Paul was born again, “I will show him how much he must suffer for My name”, Acts 9:16. Paul did not shirk, dodge or avoid paying the price of God’s call on his life. He served God, paying the full price.
A few months ago I read these comments on 2 Timothy 4:16-18, about the temptation Paul faced in this particularly dark experience. I made a note of it so I can share it with you now. If I didn’t write myself a note I admit I may well have forgotten!
“Question: How was Paul’s attaining the heavenly kingdom threatened?
Answer: Evil work, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil work and save me for His heavenly kingdom”.
Question: How could an evil work threaten Paul’s attaining the heavenly kingdom?
Answer: by tempting him to forsake his allegiance to Christ through disobedience.
Question: Was this temptation the “lion’s mouth” from which he was rescued?
Answer: Yes. “Your adversary the devil prowls like the roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him firm in your faith”.
Question: So who gets the glory that Paul did not yield to this temptation but endured to the end in faith and obedience?
Answer: “To Him [the Lord] be glory for ever and ever”.
Question: Why? Wasn’t it Paul who stood firm?
Answer: “The Lord stood by me and gave me
Are you learning deeper Christian understanding through your darker experiences? I am always having to learn how to “Be still and know that I am God”, Psalm 46:10. God is God. All of Psalm 46 deals with learning about God, Who He is and what He is doing in this world around us. He is with us, present to help in troubling times, defending us better than the Mahdi’s defences against Kitchener by the Nile in Omdurman, outworking His great plan for all nations including for little old you and me!
Remember what the shepherd King David wrote:
“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths
for His name’s sake. Even though I walkthrough the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me”, Psalm 23:1-4,
(italics and emphasis mine).
Stephen – suffering even while full of the Holy Spirit
In Acts 6:1-8:3 Stephen shows us that living in the fulness of the Holy Spirit helps us to be victorious while living through our darker experiences. Sri Lankan Ajith Fernando coined the phrase, “We must develop a theology of the fulness of the Spirit in the darkness”. He went on, “Such a teaching is not easy to grasp in this sensual, hedonistic world, which is afraid of suffering and does so much to avoid it. Yet the Bible tells us to anticipate suffering rather than avoid it. If we have a theology of the fulness of the Spirit in the darkness, we will
eagerly seek the blessings we know God will give us through the darkness”.
In my experience often it was during my darkest times that I have known God keep filling me afresh with Himself by His Holy Spirit. In the seventies He guided me from being a travelling evangelist to becoming pastor of a small church when an illness suddenly stopped me travelling and put me on my back for a while. Three small church pastorates and over thirteen years later He led me again into an itinerant Bible teaching and evangelism role, using challenging times in those intervening churches to make me better prepared and more useful to Him. During all this time God was turning me into the kind of pastor He wanted Khartoum International Church to have, following on from pastor Darrell Welling’s long, fruitful ministry there, and then retirement. Late 1999, in weakness and trembling but sure God had called us, Brenda and I moved from Cornwall, England to Sudan in obedience to Him and seeking His honour only. We offered God all we could. We held nothing back. In His grace He used our ministries to encourage, train and equip a number of dear believers, about one hundred of whom I contact still in regular ministry today – all for His honour and praise!
Stephen was a man “known to be full of the (Holy) Spirit and wisdom” and able to carry specific responsibility, Acts 6:3-5. He was “full of God’s grace and power” and was regularly enabled to work miracles out among people in the wider community, miracles that pointed to his God, Acts 6:8. His success attracted enemies. They accused Stephen of false religious interpretation and teaching, before having him arrested and charged, Acts 6:9-7:1. Stephen was suffering for doing exactly what God wanted him to do in the Holy Spirit’s presence and the Holy Spirit’s power.
Acts 7 records Stephen’s summary overview of God at work throughout Old Testament history. He used it as his defence before the Jewish Sanhedrin. In my Bible I have marked every time God is spoken of as doing something in this message. It was clearly something Stephen wanted to get across:
Acts 7:2 God “appeared”
7:3 God “said”
7:4 God “sent”
7:5 God “promised”
7:6 God “spoke”
7:7 God “said”
7:9 God “was with him”
7:10 God “rescued”
7:10 God “gave”
7:10 God “enabled”
7:17 God “fulfilled His promise”
7:25 God “was using him”
7:32 God saying, “I am the God of your fathers”
7:35 God “sent”
7:37 God told them, “(I) will raise up a prophet
7:44 God “directed”
7:45 “the nations God drove out”
It was certainly a theocentric defence Stephen gave! God was the focal point of everyone’s attention as he spoke. The audience couldn’t help it. Stephen kept pointing away from himself and towards God, which is of course what men and women always do when they are genuinely filled with the Holy Spirit. Doubtless it also helped Stephen personally to focus on God while he probably guessed he was heading towards an inevitable execution. His Sovereign Lord meant more to him than his suffering or even his earthly life.
Reading on at the end of Acts 7 we know that, in one way, the event did not end well for Stephen. Having honoured God by his ‘filled-with-the-Spirit Bible lesson’ Stephen was martyred by being stoned to death! But, of course, death brings the real Christian into an absolute and everlasting victory in heaven with the risen Lord Jesus Christ.
Please do not be deceived by so-called Christian teachers who say suffering as a Christian is a sign that God has deserted you, or that you are hiding secret sins of some sort, or that you don’t have enough faith to believe for a miracle, or that you are a failure as a Christian.
Read and grasp God’s word
Our Lord Jesus speaking to His closest followers, warning them of dark times ahead, said:
“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of Me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come”. Matthew 24:3, 9-14.
Paul writing to his favourite son in the faith, Timothy, encouraging him to stand spiritually strong in the physical and mental pains, losses, restrictions, miseries, ordeals, hardships and distresses of the Christian life and ministry wrote:
“For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me His prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. He has saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Saviour, Christ Jesus, Who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know Whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day”. “Join with me in suffering like a good soldier of Jesus Christ”.
2 Timothy 1:6-12; 2 Timothy 2:3, (italics my emphasis).
Carrying your cross for Jesus
To carry something means that you have it with you wherever you go. Ideally it should not touch the ground, you must bear its whole weight. Interestingly there is another meaning for the word ‘carry’, in the case of an infectious disease, what you carry may be easily passed on to other people you come into contact with. Maybe we need to suffer for Jesus more to make our witness more effective to outsiders?
I believe it is my solemn responsibility to write this and draw your attention to this theme of biblical teaching. I know it is not popular, but I believe it is in direct line with our Lord Jesus’ call to His original disciples:
“And He said, ‘The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.’ Then He said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for Me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?” Luke 9:22-25.
“And whoever does not carry their cross and follow Me cannot be my disciple”, Luke 14:27, (italics my emphasis).
It is a Christian life-principle that the darkness of crucifixion often comes long before the glory of resurrection. Too many Christian believers want the joy and glory of resurrection without the dark pain of crucifixion. The Lord Jesus says to us all, “Follow Me”. What does He mean?
To follow Jesus means to accompany Jesus, to attend Jesus, to shadow Jesus, to trail Jesus, to tag along with Jesus, to pursue Jesus, to go after Jesus, to obey Jesus, to copy Jesus, to model yourself on Jesus, to live up to Jesus’ name – His name which you take on yourself as a ‘Christian’.
And it means to suffer with Jesus, to feel pain for Jesus in body or mind, to be badly affected or harmed for Jesus, to live in a minority going against the general drift of society around you, to be rejected by them and even killed, just as our Lord Jesus was Himself crucified.
The Word, Jesus God the Son, became flesh
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the Light of all mankind. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”, John 1:1-5, (italics mine).
Our Lord Jesus is the Light of our lives. His life in us gives light to our living. The world is dark everywhere. Our immediate circumstances may be dark too. Our dim vision looking ahead may be gloomy and hopeless. But in and through those dark experiences we can learn precious lessons from our Saviour. He is our Light living in and through us.
Think of Paul’s stated ambition for his new Christians:
1. The young Christian church in Thessalonica
When “We confront death it forces us to ask the meaning of life”. Ultimately, why are we here living on planet earth? God explains the answer in the Bible and His answer is always the right answer. Creator God wants a living and loving relationship with every person He has ever made, including you and including me! He wants us to live as Christian disciples (that is, copying followers) of the Lord Jesus Christ, bringing honour and glory to our Lord Jesus in all we do, in what we think and in who we are.
“ … because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia”, 1 Thessalonians 1:5-7, (italics mine).
Every experience we go through in life, both pleasant and unpleasant, will be fully used by the loving heart and gracious hands of God our Father. He will gradually make us become more and more like our Lord Jesus was in attitudes and actions when in flesh on earth. Always try to recognise God’s sovereignty in your life and then relax into His shaping of both your inner and outward Christian life. He makes no mistakes in the process. He does know best, every time.
2. The young Galatian group of churches
Paul’s goal for the Christian churches in Galatia is recorded as:
“My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you …”, Galatians 4:19, (italics mine).
“Oh, my dear children! I feel as if I'm going through labour pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives”, New Living Translation.
“Paul sought to bring the Galatians to Christlikeness”.  That was Paul’s consistent aim. “More specifically, Paul describes the moment of childbirth as being when Christ is formed in them … the picture is of Christ becoming so prominent in us that He begins to do His work in the world through us, along with all others in whom He is formed. It is not about us and our works (as the false teachers had said), it is about Him and His work in us. Even in our own hearts, Christ must increase and we must decrease”, John 3:30.
Our simple Christian service, suffering included, will shine the spotlight on our Saviour Jesus. In the Acts history outsiders noticed the disciples “had been with Jesus”, Acts 4:13. The disciples’ lifestyle and conversation was all about Jesus, so much so that it earned them the nickname “Christianoi” meaning ‘Christians, people like Jesus’, Acts 11:26.
Today His light and His life radiating from our faces and our faith actions will be our conscious or subconscious witness for Jesus during our daily sphere of influence.
Praise God He will use us as lights in the world’s darkness!
3. The holy and faithful believers in Colossae
Paul paints a similar picture to another young group of churches:
“Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of His body, which is the church. I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness – the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
He (Jesus) is the One we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me”, Colossians 1:24-29, (italics mine).
The acceptance of Christianity by the Thessalonians in spite of severe suffering was a model for others looking on to follow. Choosing to follow the Lord’s call day by day, though often a struggle, worked towards developing a mature, developed, Christian and Christ-filled life. There is no short cut to Christian maturity. As I look back over my 70 years, with 57 of them as a Christian believer, I wish I knew early on many of the things I know now! However, they only come by experience and experience usually takes time, and a lot of it.
4. The maturing Ephesian Christians
Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:14-21 is a great one for us to pray for other Christians and for ourselves. Almost in the middle of it is the phrase: “ … so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith”.
“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fulness of God.
Now to Him Who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen”, Ephesians 3:14-21 (italics mine).
For our Lord Jesus Christ to ‘dwell’ in us means that He will stay with us, He will wait with us, He will rest with us, He will lodge with us, He will linger with us, He will ‘hang out’ with us (a phrase a lot of teenagers use where I live), He will abide with us.
“Every believer is indwelt by Christ at the moment of salvation (Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 12:13) but He is ‘at home’, finding comfort and satisfaction, only where hearts are cleansed of sin and filled with His Spirit”. We must exercise the Lordship of Jesus Christ over 100% of life. Is your Lord comfortable in your heart and life right now? Does He feel at home? Is He satisfied in your life? It matters more how He feels than how you feel.
5. The Roman church Paul had never met
Romans was written to “all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be His holy people”, 1:7. In a brilliantly argued theological treatise Paul sets out the gospel from the total lostness of humankind through to God’s indescribable gift of a Saviour, Who was God Himself in the human form we know as Jesus. In the centre of his argument he comes to a section on the difference between Christians who have the Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit living within their hearts and lives, and other people who do not. Please read it carefully:
“You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of His Spirit who lives in you”, Romans 8:9-11 (italics mine).
Notice the four phrases in my italics above, each beginning with ‘if’ They are, in effect, tests of anyone’s standing before God. I believe it is essential we all understand this, so I will ask direct questions of you:
· Do you know God the Holy Spirit living in your life?
· Do you know you belong to Jesus Christ?
· Is Jesus Christ living in you?
In a later Romans chapter, switching from theology to the effect of Bible belief upon a person’s life behaviour, Paul urges believers to ‘sacrifice’ themselves to God. This means Christians give themselves up, abandon themselves, relinquish themselves, surrender themselves, forego, say goodbye to everything else in their lives except living and dying for the honour and glory of God.
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will”,
Notice ‘true worship’ is not so much about singing rhythmic songs with clapping hands in church, as it is about living daily life on the cross the Lord Jesus gives you to carry with Him.
When I was a teenager I offered my life to God for the very first time. Following my conversion, then my baptism as a believer a year or two later, I stood to my feet at the end of a ‘missionary meeting’ in our London church. Several others did too. We were standing in the view of God and before our Christian friends to say we were willing to go anywhere and do anything God called us to do. Little did I imagine then where that would take me!
God’s Sovereignty uncovered in life
‘God sovereignly placed me where He did in London with my Dad, Mum and older brother. God sovereignly, and without mistake, made me who I am. He used my parents, my grandparents, my great-grandparents to forge values and standards in my life. Before I knew Him God used my school choices, the specialist subjects I enrolled in at school. God used the churches my parents and I attended. God used the treasury and banking jobs I had on leaving school.
God used all the people who taught me in Sunday Schools, in Boys Brigade and in my early attempts at giving testimony and preaching. I had a lot of good experience before I joined Illawarra Bible College in Australia. While on the two year course I gained more experience in practical mission trips to six countries in South East Asia.
Invited back to England on the team of Ambassadors for Christ Britain God opened doors for me to minister around the United Kingdom and Ireland, as I learned from more experienced evangelists. I also helped pastor consecutively three small churches which could not afford to pay a pastor’s full-time salary. I travelled away from each church for up to ten weeks per year, as well as my four weeks holiday.
During the first of these pastorates I met Rev. Nagi Konagi from Khartoum. Our church and congregation hosted an area conference for Ambassadors for Christ men from Africa and the Middle East. Nagi was one. God used an evangelist from India, John Paul, to arrange all of this. Three years later John Paul contacted me and said he had been black-listed by the Sudanese government so could not get an entry visa to teach at the annual pastor’s conference hosted by the Bible School at Gereif West. Out of the blue he asked me, “Can you take my place”?
So November 1979 began my association with AFC pastors conferences and the churches around Sudan of the pastors who attended them. God’s use of me, one of His available servants, can be traced back over all these years. Looking forward in 1963 or in 1971, or even in 1979, I would never have guessed Brenda and I would have ended up serving God and Sudan over 40 years! In 1999 we went to pastor Khartoum International Church, but God had yet more surprises in store for us both. My health became very poor and our ten year planned programme ended very suddenly and unexpectedly. I could not stay in Africa any longer.
But God – two words so important I am going to write them again – but God was still working out His plan for our lives and His ministry for us. We continue to write to and encourage many friends we had made in Sudan over the years. God supplies enough health and strength. God uses our supporting friends to raise money to publish and print thousands of articles and books for use in Sudan, South Sudan and amongst the diaspora in several other countries.
Brenda and I know we belong to our Lord Jesus Christ, and that He lives in us by His Holy Spirit. We are giving ourselves to Him day by day as best we know how. If there is any praise due anywhere it must all go to God.
In the dark experiences of my life I have developed a deeper understanding of what it means to be a follower of my Lord Jesus. It is especially about keeping priorities. I am not God. Only God is God. Nothing of this world is God, not even my dear wife, children and grandchildren. Only God is God. My ministry must never be allowed to become my God. Only God is God. Only God can ever be God. Anything that threatens is an idol.
“And God spoke all these words:
‘I am the Lord your God, Who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me’”, Exodus 20:1-2.
1. “… so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain”, Philippians 1:20b-21.
Explain your understanding of Paul’s writing here.
2. Share how you have been practically able to be renewed in your Christian discipleship even while living through very difficult times,
2 Corinthians 4:16-18.
3. Consider Ajith Fernando’s phrase, “have a theology of the fulness of the Spirit in the darkness”. We have attempted to see it in Stephen’s life, Acts 6-8. Do you find it easier to be influenced by your daily circumstances, or by the Holy Spirit? Why is this?
4. What does Jesus’ phrase, “Take up your cross and follow Me”, Luke 9:23, mean to you in daily life? How does it work out in practice?
5. Define “true and proper worship”, Romans 12:1b. Look at the surrounding text, but make the words in your definition your own, do not merely use the Bible’s words – that is too easy!
6. Reflect on God’s sovereignty in preparing you for your life. Pray together to become what He has made you for.
End notes:  30th May 2019. One month later, after more test results, the specialist decided it was not malignant. I still experience the pains. A review is planned around Christmas time, with all the unpleasant tests repeated..  John 14:1-3; 2 Timothy 4:6-8.  Luke 22:42; John 12:27-29.  The website https://www.biblegateway.com/ enables you to look up and compare more than 25 English Bible translations and several other languages too.  For Paul’s testimony about all this, see 2 Corinthians 11:16-12:10.  1 Peter 5:8.  John Piper https://myhearthisword.blogspot.com/2019/03/when-everyone-deserts- you.html  Ajith Fernando Acts – the NIV Application Commentary (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI) 1998, page 266.  See Ephesians 5:18-20; Galatians 5:22-25.  Borthwick & Ripper The Fellowship of the Suffering (IVP: Downers Grove, Il) 2018, page 168.  John MacArthur The MacArthur Study Bible (Crossway: Wheaton, Ill.) 2010, page 1749.  https://www.bibleref.com/Galatians/4/Galatians-4-19.html John MacArthur The MacArthur Study Bible (Crossway: Wheaton, Ill.) 2010, page 1749.  See Romans 1:18-20, 3:25, 5:1-5, 5:12, 5:18-19, 6:23, 7:24-25, 8:1-4.